Gaza teacher looks to inspire in battle for special needs students

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In Gaza City, one woman is making history.

Hiba Al-Sharfa works at the Right to Live Society, a school of over 600 students that specializes in teaching those with autism and Down syndrome. Al-Sharfa, who has Down syndrome herself, once attended the school -- and has now become the first teacher with Down syndrome in the entirety of the Gaza Strip.

According to Nawal Ben Saeed, a special education teacher at the Right to Live Society, Al-Sharfa was able to make such strides "because she proved herself and challenged her disability."

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Hiba Al-Sharfa, the first teacher with Down syndrome in the Gaza Strip
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Hiba Al-Sharfa, the first teacher with Down syndrome in the Gaza Strip

Hiba Al-Sharfa, a 27-year-old Palestinian teacher's aide with Down Syndrome, plays with students with Down Syndrome in a school at the Right to Live Society, in Gaza City December 21, 2016. 

REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Hiba Al-Sharfa plays with students at the Right to Live Society. Al-Sharfa is a former pupil of the school. "I came to this organization when I was young, when I was four years old. I came when I was young to the Right to Live Society. I used to read and spell with the teacher and I was able to understand all the letters so I would spell them, pronounce them and write each letter," she said, adding that one day she hopes to be in charge of a class of her own.

REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Hiba Al-Sharfa poses for a photograph. According to one of Al-Sharfa's colleagues, this is a first for the Gaza school which is making strides in challenging stereotypes. "Hiba has become the first Down syndrome teacher, at the 'Right to Live' Society, because she proved herself and challenged her disability, and this is how she became the first teacher with Down syndrome in all of the Strip," said special education teacher Nawal Ben Saeed.

REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Hiba Al-Sharfa (back) plays with students. For the students here it isn't just about learning to read and write. Al-Sharfa also acts as a role model demonstrating that their disability shouldn't deter them from achieving their dreams. "I would like to become an assistant teacher like Hiba, who would assist, teach, and teach the student, to go to the classroom and let them (the student) read," said student Mahmoud Abu Swereh.

REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Hiba Al-Sharfa gestures as she teaches students. The school specializes in teaching children with Down Syndrome and autism. There are more than 600 pupils who attend the school daily, as well another 150 who are supported in their learning at home.

REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Hiba Al-Sharfa plays with students. The school's director of rehabilitation programmes, Nabeel Haneed, hopes to show that Al-Sharfa's role in the school will 'change the outlook of parents and society'. Right to Live is now training a small group of students with Down syndrome to follow in her classroom footsteps.

REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Hiba Al-Sharfa, a twenty-seven-year-old Palestinian teacher aide with Down Syndrome, gestures as she teaches students with special needs in a school run by the Right to Live Society, in Gaza City December 21, 2016.

REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Hiba Al-Sharfa, a twenty-seven-year-old Palestinian teacher aide with Down Syndrome, gestures as she teaches students with special needs in a school run by the Right to Live Society, in Gaza City December 21, 2016.

REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

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Al-Sharfa works as a teaching aide but one day hopes to have her own classroom.

Many pupils at the school look up to the 27-year-old and aspire to be like her. One student, named Mahmoud, even said, "I would like to become an assistant teacher like Hiba."

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